Can the Astros repeat as champions in 2018?

Last year’s thrilling World Series triumph will live long in the memory of Astros fans, but for the players and coaching staff, it is ancient history as they focus on achieving the rare feat of winning back-to-back World Series.

In theory, it shouldn’t be unusual. After all, if one team emerges as the best side in MLB, they should have a good chance of continuing their dominance just a few months later. In practice, however, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, only two teams have won back-to-back World Series titles in the last 39 years. The Yankees pulled it off when they won three in a row between 1998 and 2000, while the Blue Jays were triumphant in 1992 and 1993.

Can the Astros make history in 2018? They’ve certainly made a solid start. Fans who check out the MLB standings at Stakers.com will see that Houston are behind only the Yankees and the Red Sox in the American League and are dominating the Western Division.

There are other factors in their favor. For a start, they are a better team than last time around. They have added key players such as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The Astros’ starting rotation is so strong that the likes of Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, who would be sure-fire starters in any other franchise, will be in the bullpen.

Most of their stars also have plenty of goals to aim at. The likes of José Altuve, Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa are striving to put themselves into the best possible position to earn the life-changing figures that World Series-wining free agents are entitled to ask for. If Astros fans are wondering whether those guys will be bringing the same intensity this season as last, the answer is almost certainly yes.

However, there are plenty of pitfalls to negotiate if the Astros are going to repeat their success. Many of their rivals are stronger this time around. The Yankees, who have added Giancarlo Stanton, have made a blistering start to the season, as have the Red Sox. The Angels also have more depth this time around, while the Indians, Mariners, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Cubs are all likely to mount a strong challenge this year.

Then there is the question of luck. So many of the big games last season were decided on fine margins. Of their 11 postseason victories, five were settled by a single run, and the Astros clinched three of their wins in the ninth innings or later. All of those wins were deserved, but a stroke of bad luck at the wrong time can turn narrow wins into narrow defeats, and bad luck is something that no amount of planning can prepare for.

There is also the issue of motivation. While it is true that many of the Astros players have personal goals to achieve that will keep them focused throughout the season, winning the World Series is a career-defining achievement. Will every member of the roster be just as hungry come the postseason as they were last year? It will be up to the team management to spot any complacency and deal with it as soon as it becomes evident.

Finally, the Astros will have to deal with opponents who have had months to focus on finding ways to beat them. Also, the advantage that Houston once had when it came to scouting, data and analysis probably no longer exists. The Yankees now have a bigger data analysis unit and a number of other teams have closed the gap on the champions in terms of their planning, data gathering and tactical awareness.

There is no doubt that the challenge of winning back-to-back World Series is huge. Very few teams manage to do it, and in the ultra-competitive world of professional baseball, no team is able to gain an advantage for long. If the Astros are going to pull it off, they will need to guard against complacency, come up with new strategies and ways to win, and hope that luck favors them rather than their opponents. Either way, with so many teams looking ready to mount a strong challenge, this year’s MLB season is already shaping up to be a classic.